Today, the following brief conversation came across on Twitter. While the first comment was disturbing to me, the follow-up reply really has me bothered on a couple of levels. I don’t think 140 characters (or several lines of 140 characters) are enough to really address my feelings on this, so I’ll take this space to do so instead.
Laura: I think every #Obama supporter should be given a wheelchair since they are #deaf #blind #dem (dem is the new dumb).
Buddy: @thatquirkylaura Wow. I don’t even know how to react to this. Esp as a PWD.
Laura: @bbrannan “PC” lies in Cultural Marxism. I believe in free speech, creative thought & if ur overly sensitive, u shouldn’t follow me.
“Betsy Ross”: . @thatquirkylaura @bbrannan political correctness is leftist censorship – tyrannical systems demand it #tcot
This probably shouldn’t bug me nearly as much as it does, but people are funny like that, I guess.
So let’s start at the beginning.
Every Obama supporter should be given a wheelchair since they are deaf, blind, and den (den is the new dumb).
Last I checked, wheelchairs went to people whose legs didn’t work. Last I knew, there was no connection between ears, eyes, and speech centers, and legs. Moreover, “dumb” only meant “stupid” in recent years, where its original meaning was more like an inability to speak. “Deaf and dumb” meant someone could not hear nor could that person speak. I’m not quite sure how this morphed into a loss of mental faculties, but it did. In any case, to equate disability with inability or lack of intelligence or discernment is so last century, besides being inaccurate. Such comparisons have always bugged me; as a blind person, having my blindness equated with mental slowness has always bugged me. I’m certain that deaf people who cannot speak feel this even more acutely. Even putting that aside, how did wheelchairs get into this anyway? It’s just a very bad metaphor, and in no ways accurate.
Now to the replies. Those probably bothered me even more than the original post. Oh, sure, I have real problems with the original very flawed metaphor. Were the politician a different one, the flawed metaphor would have been equally offensive. That’s OK though, this is America, and here, we absolutely have a right to be boorish, offensive, bigoted, and, above all, we have an absolute right to make idiots of ourselves. I’d be the last person to take that right from anyone. But the veiled (or perhaps, not so veiled) accusation that I was attempting to abridge anyone’s right to free speech isn’t what I take issue with, and it isn’t what really bothers me about the replies. OK, it bothers me a little, but it isn’t the biggest problem I have here.
In the main, I agree with the sentiment. Political correctness has perhaps built more walls between us than it has torn down. While I don’t believe that “words are just words and don’t mean anything”, neither do I believe that saying the right words will change what is in somebody’s heart. Yes, words mean things, and the right words, or the wrong ones, can be very destructive, but not saying something for fear of being offensive where no offense is meant can be equally harmful. Both ways can lead to misunderstanding and to a place where a meeting of minds cannot possibly occur.
So then, what’s my problem, beyond the use of a flawed and inaccurate metaphor? Do I really want to silence speech that I find disagreeable?
To the contrary, I believe that freedom of speech is vital to a growing, hanging, thriving, and vibrant society. Like Voltaire, I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Whether I think that flawed metaphors that call into question the intelligence of a whole class of people is “creative” is irrelevant, though for the record, I really don’t think it is very creative at all. Having seen other work from Laura, I know she is capable of much more creative thought. That isn’t the point though. What bothers me about these responses is that the thinking here appears to be that freedom of speech also means freedom from criticism. It does not. Freedom of speech works both ways. If you are free to say a thing, I am free to refute it, to be offended by it, to disagree with it, or to call you out on it. I am also free to agree with it, praise it, or expound upon its virtues if I so choose. You are free to react to my reaction. It’s a wonderful thing. By such a free exchange of thought, perhaps we all grow and change and become better human beings. But to suppose that freedom of speech also means freedom from the consequences of that speech is pure folly. All freedoms, and all rights, come with equal responsibilities attached to those freedoms. Remember that freedom of speech also means freedom of speech that you don’t happen to like, or for that matter, that I don’t happen to like. But it also means that ifI don’t like some speech, I am free to express that opinion and what I find disagreeable about it. Does it mean you’ll agree? Of course it doesn’t.
Laura, all I said was that I didn’t know how to react to your statement. Rather than asking what I meant, you automatically assumed I wished you to be silenced. I do not. I think I understand what you were going for, but it just didn’t work. It really didn’t. You are capable of so much more. Equating one disability with several other unrelated ones really doesn’t take a lot of creativity or time. What ever happened to Eight Storms Brewing, anyway? I really enjoyed that, although I think I enjoyed it in its first eight brother and sister daemons incarnation a bit more. (I understand how that’d be hard to pull off though.)